What baby stuff should I buy secondhand?
August 4, 2012 9:40 AM   Subscribe

What kinds of baby/toddler things are ok to buy secondhand?

I have always shopped secondhand for things for myself, and think it's a great way to go. But with an upcoming baby, I'm not sure what is ok to buy secondhand and what isn't. For instance:

-I assume all baby clothes can be bought secondhand, so long as they're thoroughly washed before baby wears them?

-Books/toys. I want to start picking up things if I see them. However, I'm not sure. Some things are pretty obviously either clean or easily cleaned (bath books, simple plastic toys, etc.) but others are less so. I'm thinking of the books I will want to read to my toddler, like Dr. Seuss and Berenstain Bears. Or toys with battery compartments that I can't just dunk in hot water. Will antiseptic wipes be good enough to clean those off if they are of unknown provenance?

-Strollers/carseats. I know a lot of people do buy these secondhand. How do you make sure they're still in the safest possible condition?

-What other things can and should be bought secondhand for a baby? What are some good resources for those things? I plan to breastfeed.
posted by Night_owl to Home & Garden (39 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Don't buy a used car seat. Like a bike helmet, once it's been in a crash, it should be discarded, and you don't know the history of a used one.

Older cribs might have a spring-loaded drop side, which is convenient for setting the baby down and picking it up, but they have been outlawed (in the U.S., I don't know about elsewhere) because of injuries involved with them accidentally being activated.

Other than that... I can't think of anything. We bought/were given tons of used clothes, books, toys, etc. for our baby. Garage sale toys, we wiped down with baby wipes before giving to her and clothes we washed first regardless of whether they already seemed clean, but in general, it's worked out great.
posted by voodoochile at 9:53 AM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Okay, I thought of one more: don't buy anything used that you can no longer buy new: it may have been recalled for safety reasons. I'm thinking of those walkers that you used to be able to get, but probably applies to other stuff as well.
posted by voodoochile at 9:54 AM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The only thing I would definitely avoid buying secondhand for a baby would be a carseat, since you would not be able to verify whether it had ever been involved in a crash. I might also avoid buying things that may harbor bedbugs like mattresses or upholstered furniture or other soft things that can not easily be run through the washing machine (Boppy pillows fall into that category, for me). But that also depends on your area, whether bedbugs are a consideration.

We avoid battery-operated toys because they get annoying real real fast, but I imagine a wipe-down with a wet, soapy cloth would be just fine to clean most plastic toys and things.

It is true that books are not easily sanitized, but there is not much difference between a secondhand book and a library book.
posted by fancyoats at 10:01 AM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: At the daycares I have worked at we always bleached the toys with a solution of water and bleach. Here are some tips from Clorox on cleaning toys.
posted by NoraCharles at 10:20 AM on August 4, 2012

I buy almost all my baby's stuff second hand - the exceptions are safety (car seats and cribs - see the AAP's rules - walkers are out these days). But strollers are fine and soo much more affordable second hand. You can do a quick internet search on the make/model to see if there was a recall.

My other rule is "a little dirt don't hurt" - I clean everything before giving it to him, but it doesn't need to be sanitized. I've yet to come across a baby item that can't be put in the dishwasher or laundry.
posted by cestmoi15 at 10:22 AM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

No used car seats, cribs, or mattresses as mentioned above. I would not buy a kid's primary pair of walking shoes used - they get molded to kid feet so it makes it harder to walk (a real shame since good shoes are expensive). Bath toys - buy rubber duckies and any other squeeze toys new, as they harbour mold (or simply avoid the mould ones altogether).

Some things are OK to reuse once you remove the personal items - eg with bottles get new nipples, with breast pumps get new tubing and horns. Also with shoes - purely decorative shoes, slippers, or Robeez you can get used.
posted by crazycanuck at 10:24 AM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'd be leery of secondhand baby books --- toys, highchairs and other stuff you can wipe down and disinfect are fine, as are secondhand clothes which can be washed; but babies put pretty much everything they can in their mouths, and there's no way to disinfect paper or cardboard. (Secondhand books for kids who are past the chew-everything stage would be okay.)

Also watch out for used plastic baby bottles (because of BHA), but glass would be safe.
posted by easily confused at 10:33 AM on August 4, 2012

Best answer: What everyone else said, except that I might consider a secondhand carseat if it was from someone I definitely trusted, had been in zero accidents, and was less than five years old. Basically, select hand-me-downs.

Whip out your phone at garage sales and do a quick google for recalls, especially for large baby-containing items.
posted by that's how you get ants at 10:43 AM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

We got used everything except car seats. It's all fine. We have a drop side crib that has the side bolted on. We are handy types, confident in our ability to assess wear and tear. We also got a stroller that has multiple safety features and is difficult to collapse (bugaboo chameleon). I'd be much more wary of an easy-to-collapse stroller used.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:46 AM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Babies don't actually require a sterile environment to thrive. Used carseats are a no-go, but most anything else is just fine. Just about everything we used except for bottle nipples was hand-me-down from friends and family (consider asking friends who are parents before you spend money even on secondhand stuff; most parents will have an attic or basement full of boxes of baby things they'd be thrilled to get rid of) and we certainly didn't use antiseptic anything Ours never caught a cold or the like -- even when his parents had one -- until daycare started: kid-to-kid disease transfer will happen for sure; cardboard-to-kid transfer I wouldn't worry about at all.
posted by ook at 10:46 AM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Everything but cribs, car seats, and bike helmets.
posted by rabidsegue at 10:56 AM on August 4, 2012

We got everything used, including carseat, cradle, crib - but we are close friends with the previous owners of these items and we know their age and history. After we're done with the carseat it will be close to the end of it's lifespan and we'll toss it.
posted by arcticwoman at 11:06 AM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Don't forget the element of time as a disinfectant-- if you're concerned about human pathogens, most of those (including viruses) aren't going to survive on surfaces more than a month or two at the outside. I generally proceeded under the working assumption that a couple of months in storage (plus a few days in the sun for that extra UV disinfection boost) would take care of most of the danger from active infection by the kinds of bacteria/viruses you'd find in the average suburban home.

Conversely, I'd be a bit more worried about hazards that tend to get worse with time and storage, like old plastics and foams leaching/offgassing weird byproducts, or the growth of mold in porous materials. Old mattresses, pillows, vinyl or other soft/flexible plastic toys? Yuck.
posted by Bardolph at 11:09 AM on August 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Hm. Well, we got everything secondhand. Use your judgement and comfort levels. We got all our carseats from people we know. We have passed along the bucket seats to another friend with the caveat that they are the last owners of those seats as they've now reached the manufacturer's recommended end-of-lifespan. Our crib and mattress, a hand-me-down from a friend. Our crib has been recalled. Why? Because it has a drop side. I love the drop side and it has served us well. You can look up almost anything regarding recalls or current safety measures. Our co-sleeper, also second hand and six babies have now slept in it. This is all among friends which changes things in my eyes but I'm sure some people are reading this and clutching their chests.


I have picked up board books from friends and ones that look in decent condition from garage sales that are decent. This has been great because those books are getting thrashed. I do avoid from consignment stores those toys which look hard to clean. I actually prefer hand-me-down clothes and second hand because I believe most of the flame retardant chemicals have likely been washed out and aired out of the clothes. I always wash things first.

My breast pump was also second hand which I really agonized over after reading much hand-wringing hysteria on the Internet. As it turns out (with my Medela) here are no uncleanable or unreplaceable parts that come into contact with breast milk. I was given, from my lactation consultant all new parts for the milk stuff, which was great. And if I was going to do it again, I would totally take and sterilize hand-me-down parts for the pump with the exception of the tubes and the little valve.
posted by amanda at 11:10 AM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can actually buy used carseats, but it's better to buy them from an individual than from a second-hand shop, because you're more likely to get the truth. You have to check the expiration - make sure it's got a couple of years. I would be more inclined to reject a seat from a seller with a child still capable of fitting it. If you can't get over that fear enough to interview people for a carseat deal, though, you can at least get a free one from Craig's List or freecycle to get a discount from one of the big retailers (they hold special sales where you trade in a big piece of gear like a carseat for 25% off a new one).

Other than that, most big gear checked for recalls and full safety features is fine.

I would only ever buy one type of breast pump used: EnJoye. This is because it's the ONLY pump with enclosed mechanics, meaning it doesn't get any breast milk outside of the tubing/flanges, and all you need to do is buy that stuff new. All other pumps allow the potential for pathogens to cycle through the system.

I would not buy used bottles. Maybe glass or stainless steel, since I could sterilise those at a high enough heat and with bleach without harming the integrity, but I wouldn't use the couplers or nipples. Breast milk can carry significant pathogens that don't respond to anything but the strongest disinfection.

Not sure about the books. I bought clean books from a discount bookstore, and I know some had been on personal shelves before. I just checked for condition and rejected any with bite marks or rough edges.

I wouldn't buy a used crib mattress. They're cheap at IKEA. I'm careful about plush toys, too. And definitely not tub toys.

Anything else, though - clothes, especially! - is way more cost-effective used.
posted by batmonkey at 11:20 AM on August 4, 2012

Something you can now get for free, I believe, that can supplement secondhand items: udder the ACA, Breastfeeding supplies should be free. I'm not sure what specifics are covered but check into it!
posted by manicure12 at 11:26 AM on August 4, 2012

Best answer: I was comfortable with just about everything used: car seat, co-sleeper, crib, chairs, clothing, books. I even passed on the car seat to another Mefite. I bought a new breast pump (2, in fact!) because I wanted the newest technology but passed it on when I was done. Lots of people buy used cloth diapers and there's a brisk market for them.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 11:44 AM on August 4, 2012

Many people have said that you cannot get a carseat secondhand.

Is there any evidence to back up the assertion that a car seat that looks to be in very good condition might actually have some fatal flaw in it that would kill or injure your baby? I am just curious why everyone always says this and whether it's just something that someone's mom came up with or if there is truth to it.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:50 AM on August 4, 2012

I find buying clothes second hand is actually better than new - all the chemicals and Possible skin irritants have long since been washed out.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:51 AM on August 4, 2012

Don't worry about stocking too much. Someone is giving away an exersauser EVERY DAY.

But I am really glad that I bought a lot of classic preschooler books used when my son was little. We have a ton of great ones.

With clothing, it is really hard to guess what size your kid will be for a particular season. So don't stock up on sweaters in 6 mo when maybe kid will be wearing 18 mo.
posted by k8t at 11:56 AM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

I bought nearly everything second hand except carseats and cribs.

treehorn+bunny, I was told that the force of impact in an accident can cause unseen stresses on the frame of the carseat that may reduce its ability to be as safe as possible in future crashes. Cars are pretty scary and accidents are common, so taking chances on this is a risk that is generally advised against. If you buy used, unless its from someone you know and trust, you don't know the history of the seat.
posted by chiababe at 12:00 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Get on your neighborhood parenting listserv ASAP as you'll probably get everything for free or cheap. Consignment shops mark things up a lot.

Also let people know you are pregnant. Inevitably people will start giving you things. (Err... Offloading what they have.)

You don't need much. And things like strollers and carriers are really easier to decide upon after baby is born.
posted by k8t at 12:54 PM on August 4, 2012

Best answer: No secondhand mattresses unless you are wrapping it.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 1:48 PM on August 4, 2012

Is there any evidence to back up the assertion that a car seat that looks to be in very good condition might actually have some fatal flaw in it that would kill or injure your baby?

So if you are in a car accident, and there is a carseat in your car, insurance will often pay to replace the carseat because you don't know what kind of stress was placed on the carseat during impact (even if it was empty, it still got jerked around.) It is an abundance of caution, granted, but you really don't want the carseat to fail, ever.

It's my understanding that once a carseat has been reported as having been in an accident (i.e. the insurance company has paid to replace it) the serial number goes in a file, and your insurer may decline to cover any injuries to a child using that carseat, since it was supposed to have been replaced. So I think the concern is that people use their insurance to get a replacement carseat and then sell the old one.

I would not for a moment be concerned about second-hand books. It's unlikely they would actually harbor anything, and even if they did, it's no different than books from the library. Once babies are past three months of age, some dirt and germs are OK. Prior to three months, you really want to avoid exposing the baby to germs, because a newborn with a fever goes to the ER and gets pan-cultured, meaning they take a sample of all their fluids: blood, urine, spinal column. Yeah. A spinal tap on a newborn is Something To Avoid.

After three months, however, kids need some dirt. Humans evolved in filth, and there is such a thing as being too clean. I don't mean to sound cavalier, but billions of babies have done just fine in conditions that would horrify us today.

And k8t speaks the truth on figuring out strollers and baby carriers after the baby comes. Believe it or not, babies have their own opinions on such things.
posted by ambrosia at 1:52 PM on August 4, 2012

PorcineWithMe: "No secondhand mattresses unless you are wrapping it."

I may be out of the loop these days, but that website looks like nothing more than a thinly veiled advertorial wrapped in unproven science to me.
posted by pharm at 2:45 PM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

There is essentially nothing I wouldn't hesitate to buy used for a baby. There is also very little I'd buy ahead of time for a baby, because you'll end up never using half of it.

Personally I think the used carseat thing I complete nonsense. You'll buy a used *car* that may or may not have been in a crash and poorly repaired, but not a carseat? Which one of these do you honestly think is a greater risk to your safety? I challenge anyone on mefi to find me a link to a single case of injury determined to be caused by reuse of a carseat that wasn't obviously damaged such that you could tell by looking at it.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 3:52 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just FYI, batmonkey, my Medela was the same. No contact with breast milk through the mechanics. I don't even understand why that would ever be the case.
posted by amanda at 4:50 PM on August 4, 2012

The other issue with a car seat, besides crashes, is that things like being left in the sun, washing the straps in a washing machine, or even just taking it on a plane and gate checking it (and having them drop it from several feet...) can put stress on the carseat. These may or may not be visible to the naked eye, but they may, in fact, matter in a car accident. The cost of a new carseat is so low when compared to the catastrophic harm that would be caused by one failing that it's not worth the risk. We just got a car seat that will last until our baby is at least 40 inches tall and it was $50. Not that much to be certain that it is fundamentally safe and sound.

And I am not a safety nut--but car accidents happen, and they happen quite often, and having your baby in a safe, properly installed carseat can make the difference between a short visit to the ER and a lifelong disability.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:59 PM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Medela is quite specific about their pumps being single-use, which is how I ended up researching that whole thing in the first place.
posted by batmonkey at 5:39 PM on August 4, 2012

batmonkey: that article seems to come down on the side of used being ok.

"But here's the thing: Even Medela acknowledges the risk for contamination from one mom to another is "unlikely." The company doesn't have any data on illness or infection related to use of second-hand pumps."

My first kid is due next week. Almost everything we have is a hand-me-down from someone I know and trust, including both infant and toddler car seats, a crib and a mattress, a co-sleeper and a mattress, a breast pump, and pretty much anything else you can get for a baby. I feel totally fine about this. That said, I probably would not have purchased these items used from strangers or from a store.

Disclosure: I'm also likely to be the kind of mom that picks the pacifier up off the floor and wipes it on the hem of my shirt before sticking it back in my kid's mouth, but I learned this approach from my father, who is a pediatrician, so I feel ok about it.
posted by judith at 6:11 PM on August 4, 2012

My feeling on it was if Medela (and other manufacturers) couldn't be confident enough to endorse their product (they bring up everything from pathogens to motor wear), I wanted to find the manufacturer who had that confidence. And that's how I ended up with an EnJoye.

The other thing about non-EnJoye pumps is that they aren't recyclable, but EnJoye pumps are.

Random clarification: If I knew the bed-bug-free provenance of a mattress, I would snap that up. I didn't have anyone around for that treat, so I ended up at IKEA.

Agree with those saying to find your neighbourhood listserve or city yahoo group for mamas or any of those communities. I found my city one a bit late to be helpful with the early stuff, but they are literal lifesavers for so many families!
posted by batmonkey at 6:34 PM on August 4, 2012

Also see if there's a toy rental company in your area. We've saved some money by renting big toys that we weren't sure our daughter would like or get much use from. One we will definitely be buying, three we will be returning. The toy rental place we use sanitises stuff.

I gotta say, you will probably sterilize everything for the first few months, then your kid starts licking the floor and it's pretty pointless past laundry and wipe-down clean.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:45 PM on August 4, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the help so far, y'all! I do appreciate the "dirt don't hurt" sentiment, as I have a good bit of that myself. I just also like my baby and don't want to put her at risk from germs I know nothing about. Like, if I drop her pacifier at home, I'll just give it back to her, because I know how clean my house is. But if I drop it at the grocery store, it's going to need to be rinsed at least, because who knows?
posted by Night_owl at 9:17 PM on August 4, 2012

The only thing I wouldn't buy used for a baby is car seats (because of the possible hidden damage) and crib mattresses because of the risk of bed bugs) and I'd use a use mattress if I knew the person who used it previously.

batmonkey writes "Medela is quite specific about their pumps being single-use, which is how I ended up researching that whole thing in the first place."

Medela has a two prong vested interest in advocating against re-use. First is the obvious reduction in sales; the vast majority of second hand sales are a lost first sale as I'm guessing the breast pump market isn't very elastic. The second is a baby getting sick from their pump, even if such a thing is a 1 in 10 billion risk, would be deadly to their business. Even if the pump wasn't the transmission vector. And unless some competitor is picking up market share by being known as resalable there is no upside to promoting resale. Especially considering people currently have very little issue with handing the devices down despite no official endorsement.

Night_owl writes "I just also like my baby and don't want to put her at risk from germs I know nothing about. Like, if I drop her pacifier at home, I'll just give it back to her, because I know how clean my house is. But if I drop it at the grocery store, it's going to need to be rinsed at least, because who knows?"

Moderate that with the knowledge that babies touch everything, including the floor, and then stick their hands in their mouths. To that end, and maybe I was hopelessly reckless, I didn't worry about sterilizing stuff like used books. or wiping anything but the macro contamination off a pacifier. After all there is no guarantee even a brand new book wasn't handled or sneezed on in the store by a sick child.

tylerkaraszewski writes "I challenge anyone on mefi to find me a link to a single case of injury determined to be caused by reuse of a carseat that wasn't obviously damaged such that you could tell by looking at it."

Pretty well impossible to prove this as you'd have to prove that a) the injury was caused by a defect in the seat and that b) that defect wasn't visible prior to the injurious accident. But advice against using used safety equipment is wide spread whether it's seat belts, helmets or car seats. In competition all safety equipment is dated and replaced on a regular schedule because environmental exposure can deteriorate the equipment even if it's stored on a shelf. And of course we don't store car seats on shelves rather we leaving them baking in cars exposed to UV, ozone, abrasion and solvents.
posted by Mitheral at 9:59 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

A hand pump is a very inexpensive alternative to a breast pump, and a pretty good thing to have on hand anyway - some people express better with them. They are more compact and don't require batteries or an outlet. But first off, you should absolutely see if your insurance covers pump purchase or rental. My pump, new, was $300. Did I want to spend that much on a device that I wasn't even the slightest bit stoked to use anyway? Nope. So many insurers are covering all or part of a purchase of a pump and if yours does then you should definitely go new.

And, yeah, Medela easily covers their ass and increases sales. I've used the pump. The milk goes nowhere near the mechanics. All the other stuff can be swapped out. It's okay if you're not comfortable with that reassurance -- everyone has their own comfort level.
posted by amanda at 11:00 PM on August 4, 2012

Mattresses & plushies can be put in the freezer. Kills potential bedbugs, dust mites and other pathogens.
posted by travelwithcats at 3:43 AM on August 5, 2012

Mitheral: precisely my point, and since there was a viable competitor believably claiming to have bested the only three weak points in their product offering (I was a committed sale before that one fateful search), I went with that competitor. :)

Night owl, another thing occurred to me that might be useful to you, too: I found that going through the big baby stores (Buy Buy Baby, Babies 'R' Us) and sites then poking around the specialty shops for actual trends and the most current technology helped me recognise deals when I spotted them on CL, at garage sales, and in thrift stores.

That's how I knew I had to snap up the Melissa & Doug stackable wooden cubes when out thrifting ($6; at least triple for new), amongst other things.
posted by batmonkey at 6:52 PM on August 5, 2012

Effective 8/1/2012, breast pumps are going to be covered under insurance plans as part of the no cost preventive care items included in ObamaCare. I'm unclear as to whether it means they'll cover a rental for a few months or if you get one to keep, so if you've got health insurance, call them up and ask how that will work for you.
posted by chiababe at 8:26 PM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have five kids and have learned this lesson: babies aren't invincible, but they're a lot tougher than I thought they would be.

We've had used highchairs, used toys, used books, used clothing - you name it. And if you're really concerned about a car seat, you can get a really decent one for about $80 (I know, because I just bought one two weeks ago).

As you said: dirt don't hurt. Or at least, not as much as you would think.
posted by tacodave at 4:20 PM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

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